Maybe the number has something to do with it.
Penn State running back Akeel Lynch wears No. 22, just like former Buffalo Bills back Fred Jackson. Like Jackson, Lynch has a tallish, forward-leaning, slashing running style. When he turns the corner, every Lynch stride seems to eat up more yards.
Lynch, who starred for St. Francis High School of Athol Springs, likes the association. In fact, Penn State’s running backs coach, Charles Huff, spent 2012 as assistant running backs coach with the Bills.
“I’ve heard that comparison before with Fred Jackson,” Lynch said on a conference call this week. “He’s a very good back. It’s very unfortunate he had to go from the Bills. He’s someone I look up to. Actually Coach Huff, our running backs coach, worked with Fred Jackson. We have a lot of film I’ve used to watch of him.”
Stopping Lynch will be a tall order for the University at Buffalo on Saturday.
The Penn State junior, who was the Gatorade New York State High School player of the year in 2011, is the most athletic running back UB will face this season. UB’s defense has eight new starters.
Lynch and Penn State also are focused on making amends for their disappointing, 27-10, season-opening loss at Temple.
Lynch rushed for 78 yards on 10 carries in the game and scored on a 42-yard run. But Penn State managed just 54 total yards of offense in the final three quarters.
“I think we have to give credit to Temple, they made adjustments,” Lynch said. “But there’s obviously plays we could have made. ... The running backs can extend our drives by making more plays by converting more first downs on third down.”
Lynch should be primed for a big season. He’s the clear-cut No. 1 tailback for the Nittany Lions after a good showing the second half of last season. Lynch entered his sophomore year in 2014 third on the running back depth chart but moved up to No. 1 by the eighth game. He finished with a team-high 678 yards and had two 100-yard games (130 vs. Temple and 137 vs. Illinois).
At 5-foot-11, Lynch is a tad shorter than Jackson, but he’s a few pounds heavier, at 222. Lynch was a man among boys when he rushed for a school-record 2,131 yards and 25 TDs as a senior at St. Francis. He’s more powerful now.
“I think physically I’m a lot stronger then when I came here,” Lynch said. “Mentally I’m a lot more in tune with the offense. I think that allows me to play faster with the experience I’ve gained over the past two years.”
Nevertheless, the heat is on everyone at Penn State after the loss to Temple.
Penn State coach James Franklin is complimentary of Lynch but wants to see more.
“I thought Akeel did some nice things on Saturday,” Franklin said. “He’s going to continue to have opportunities in practice and the game to show us that he’s the guy. Right now he’s listed at the top of the depth chart, and I think from an experience and from a mental standpoint he’s ahead of the rest of the guys. I would love for him to take control of that job and say, ‘I’m the guy’ and be a difference-maker for us. He’s shown flashes.”
Behind Lynch on the depth chart are two red-shirt freshmen and one highly touted true freshman, Saqon Barkley, who was rated the ninth best prep running back in the nation by 247Sports.com.
Lynch, born and raised in Toronto, transferred to St. Francis to start his junior year of high school in order to attract more attention from U.S. colleges. Lynch lived his junior year with Adam Redden, who starred at safety as a senior for UB last season. Lynch credits St. Francis head coach Jerry Smith and long-time Red Raiders assistant John Scibetta with getting him ready for a Big Ten program.
“Those guys go all out for their players, and I appreciate what they did for me and all the guys to help me develop my game,” Lynch said. “St. Francis definitely exposed me to more opportunities. Playing football in Canada, there’s not a lot of exposure to recruiters and schools.”
UB safety Andrews Dadeboe, a projected starter, was limited in practice Thursday, and his status for Saturday will be a game-time decision, Bulls coach Lance Leipold said. True freshman Brandon Stanback started in Dadeboe’s place in the opener against Albany.
UB still is without senior linebacker Jarrett Franklin and senior backup running back Devin Campbell, both recovering from back injuries. They have yet to practice this season.